Imagine your closest family member - perhaps your spouse or your child - is a refugee trapped in poverty or war somewhere else in the world.
Would that affect how you felt about refugees and asylum seekers coming to your country?
Exhibit A: Europe
This week an abandoned chicken truck was found by the side of a motorway in Austria. Inside, 71 refugees from Syria, including four children, had suffocated to a slow painful death.
Imagine if one of those refugees were your loved one, their final moments spent in rising panic.
Exhibit B: The United States
In the United States, tens of thousands of undocumented children fleeing gang violence in Central America (mainly El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), have come in through the Mexican Border over the past few years.
Imagine if one of those undocumented children was yours. And each night you cried, sick with worry about their safety.
Exhibit C: Australia
The Australian government has imprisoned 87 women and children seeking asylum in Australia on the island of Nauru. A recent Senate Committee inquiry found that the Nauru Regional Processing Centre is rife with, "child abuse, violence against asylum seekers, deprivation and sexual assault."
Imagine if one of those children behind prison bars was your own son or daughter, desperately waiting on you to help them get out.
35 years ago my wife, Nay, fled the Khmer Rouge as a little girl. Her father had already been killed by the murderous regime, and her young mother managed to escape with two young children in tow through the Cambodian jungle.
They cheated death with every step as they avoided landmines and eventually made it to a Thai refugee camp. In time, they were sponsored to New Zealand.
The thing is, I didn't know that that little six year old would become my wife. I didn't know that my mother-in-law and other folks who would become beloved extended family, were suffering as refugees.
If I had, would I have done more? Would I have spoken out against anti-refugee rhetoric more strongly? Would I have made sure they were welcomed in New Zealand and their needs were well met?
Of course I would have. (And I am grateful that my parents were actively involved in sponsoring and caring for refugees throughout my childhood.)
There is something profoundly important about the fact that God's own son walked this earth as an undocumented child refugee. This was no accident. It was part of the plan all along. He could have been born and lived as a prince, a wealthy landowner or the Chief Priest. But instead He chose to become a refugee:
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.”
Matthew 2: 13-15
So, God's heart is very much for the refugee. His own Son was a refugee. To the point where Jesus reiterated that, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me in." Whatever you do for refugees you do for Him. He calls them his "little brothers" as a reminder that those who suffer are to be considered as family (Matthew 25:40).
So, how then should you and I respond, practically speaking, to what seems like an overwhelming refugee crisis? There are 4 ways, I think, that would be Biblical, Christ-like responses to the humanitarian crisis that is currently unfolding. These are the ways I would want folks to respond if my own child or spouse were still caught up in this refugee crisis:
1. Speak Truth to Power
Donald Trump wants to build a bigger wall. This, on top of the 21,000 Border Patrol Agents that already patrol the US-Mexico border and $3.7 billion dollars a year spent supporting their efforts to shut out the poor and the desperate (billions of dollars that could have otherwise been spent relieving poverty in the region).
Trump is seeing growing support among evangelical Christians. Not growing condemnation... Growing support!
Ironically, some of these undocumented children are actually named Jesus (as well as Jose, Pablo and Juan)! And still we are blind to what God is saying.
Where is the Christian outrage over presidential candidates who spout Bible verses with one breath and try to outdo each other with their anti-immigrant (anti-Jesus) rhetoric with the next? Where is the Christian voice for our refugee brothers and sisters?
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
In Australia, a movement of Christian leaders called Love Makes a Way, has emerged to speak truth to the Australian government on behalf of the asylum seekers being detained on Nauru island.
More than 200 Christian leaders have now been arrested all over Australia for protesting against the detainment of children asylum seekers. In the way of the ancient prophets, they use street theater and prophetic acts to call attention to plight of those in detention. And they are not afraid to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to force the government to respond.
This is a beautiful example of speaking truth to power. You can also sign petitions, lobby your government to accept and support more refugees, speak out on social media against anti-refugee rhetoric, and raise the issue in your local church. Speak Truth to Power.
2. Practice Radical Hospitality
I'm grateful for the Christians who welcomed my wife into their homes and church. I'm grateful for the radical hospitality that was extended towards her family, after they had suffered unspeakable pain. That love and acceptance made a massive difference in her life and faith journey. They lived this scripture:
The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
Meanwhile, in Germany, one small town was caught on video practicing the radical welcome of Christ towards a busload of refugees arriving on their turf. Check it out for a major dose of inspiration:
#Danke_Deutschland الالمان يستقبلون السورين بالورود شكرا من القلب لكل الشعب الالماني والحكومة المانية التي فتحت ابوابها بالابتاسامة والورود والمحبة بعكس كثير من دول العربية وشكرا من القلب للشعب الالمانيDie Deutschen begrüßen das syrische Volk mit Blumen. Dafür danken wir dem deutschen Volk und der Regierung von ganzem Herzen, dass sie ihre Türen für uns öffnen im Gegensatz zu den arabischen Ländern.Posted by Talal Abk on Tuesday, August 25, 2015
3. Embrace Non-Violence
This refugee crisis has not arisen in a vacuum. It didn't come from nowhere. It has emerged because of decades of military intervention and violence. Much of this by Western powers such as the United States, England and Australia.
I don't have space to draw these connections for you within this short post, but simply consider this question - where does anger and bitterness (the things that lead to violence) come from? It comes from past hurts, fear of others and woundedness. Those hurts and fears can only be healed by love, reconciliation and forgiveness - not military strikes and violent suppression. Hatred cannot be transformed by the fist, or at the end of the barrel of a gun.
If we Christians don't lead the way in this, who will? As followers of Jesus, we need to be a radical voice for non-violence and enemy-love. No matter what they do to us.
The way of the Prince of Peace is truly the only hope for the world now. I am not talking about passivity, but creativity. Radical love is this: laying down our lives for our enemies.
4. Face your Fears
Ultimately, when it comes down to the reality of welcoming refugees you will come face to face with your deepest fears:
- that your jobs might be taken
- that your nation will change
- that your community will look different
- that resources will be spread more thinly
- that you will no longer be part of a demographic majority
- that Christians will no longer be a majority.
But what do these fears reflect, but an unhealthy attachment to power, comfort and control? We enjoy being the majority. We love the privilege that comes from being in power. We love having more than we need to meet our basic needs.
But is that what Jesus has called us to grasp for? Has He not called us to lay down our lives for others? To love our neighbour, no matter what the cost?
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)
Surely, this is a difficult calling. Only love can overcome fear. And that is why I appeal to you on the basis of relationship and familial ties. What if that refugee child were your own flesh and blood? What if they were your own son or daughter? What mountain would you not climb? What politician would you not lobby? What price would you not pay to see them brought to safety?
Only the kind of love we usually reserve for family can overcome the fear and selfishness that teaches us to close our doors and turn away from their plight. But Jesus calls us to a different way, the way of peace, radical welcome and laying down our lives for others.
Will you allow that love to compel you towards action today?